Rev Jim Keat believes that the internet is changing the way that we do Church – and that’s a good thing
The Church has always been about finding ways to communicate the good news, to connect with people however we can. Paul wrote letters and went on roads built by the Romans because that was the technology of his day. We use Twitter, Facebook and Facetime because this is the technology of our day.
I was born on the day of the first cell phone call in America. I’ve grown up with this stuff. I’ve seen technology change and it has been a native part of my life. When I was in seminary learning Greek and Hebrew I decided I wanted to learn HTML and CSS as they seemed like languages I was also going to need in my work in the Church.
Playing catch up
About 500 years ago the Church was on the cutting edge of cultural communication technology thanks to Guttenberg, but ever since it feels like we’ve been playing catch up. We invented the printing press, and ever since we’ve been taking our cues from the way that communication happens.
A lot of churches now have fine-tuned a broadcast era approach – a one way channel of information, but the internet allows for a different type of engagement. The internet creates space for a dialogue rather than a monologue.
When we think of a sermon we think of one person talking and a lot of people sitting down and listening. But the nature of social media is it fundamentally shifts that paradigm. I think that is a scary thing for a lot of people but an incredibly necessary thing for the future of the Church.
Embracing the virtual world
The Church has always been the people in the world. Now we can finally move beyond the walls and exist digitally in the world.
Too often we think virtual is the opposite of real, but virtual is just the opposite of physical – both are real. As people are sharing their real lives in these virtual spaces the Church needs to show up and be present there as well – that’s one of the greatest strengths of social media; it blurs the lines of ‘where is the Church?’
The goal is never to replace physical just with the virtual – I don’t want to become a robot and turn my life into a digital entity. But we are already a merger of physical and technological. When you meet someone in person and then you can meet them on Twitter the conversations become so much deeper – and vice versa. There is always interplay between the two.
Being ourselves and listening to others
The worst thing about social media is when it just becomes a shouting match, but it is at its best when it lets you to enter this digital cocktail party and you can hear all these different voices and connect with so many different people. The diversity of opinion is a benefit – I always encourage church leaders to go in with a listening posture first, rather than just a broadcast or shouting posture, which is often our tendency on the internet.
The internet requires the need for transparency and clarity from churches. As much as we can feel the need to put on personas, the internet is at its best when we can see people as they are. It can be very revealing at times – for better or worse – but honesty should never be something we avoid.
Being willing to evolve
Online church is accessible everywhere – I think it might affect church attendance in the future. We have to ask the hard question: Are we willing for our way of being Church to evolve and change in the world? I hope so.
If we hold on too tightly to the relics of our past then we will have a lifespan as long as they do. If we are willing to be nimble and shift and move as the world around us does then I think the Church will find itself showing up in these ways in the future.
Social media shifts the nature of ‘show up to a building’ but it allows the good news, which for too long has been confined to that building, to be set free and into the world. That’s what this whole thing has been about.
Rev Jim Keat is the associate minister of digital strategy & online engagement at The Riverside Church in New York City and the director of online learning at the Center for Progressive Renewal. Find out more about him at JimKeat.com
He was speaking to Loretta Andrews on Premier Christian Radio’s Drive program.